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December 21, 2021

The Grinch Who Saved Christmas

U.S. senators work for their constituents, not their party bosses.

The hot news this past Sunday was Senator Joe Manchin’s announcement that he will not vote in favor of the Democrats’ massive Build Back Better bill. Democrats had planned to pass it under the reconciliation process, which would have required all 50 Democrat votes plus the VP tie-breaker. Manchin’s no vote is essentially a death warrant for the bill.

As is often the case, the reactions are at least as entertaining as the event itself. Heads are exploding over this one. We read of the vital importance to the nation of “letting the majority lead.” (Bulletin: There is no majority in the Senate; it’s tied 50/50, and the House has only a five-seat Democrat advantage.) And we read of the gross unfairness of “allowing a single Senate vote to scuttle Biden’s signature legislation.” (Bulletin #2: It’s actually 51 votes — the Republican votes count also.)

Manchin’s declaration should have come as a shock only to those who haven’t been listening to him for the past five months and/or who assumed that he would be rolled just like most politicians. Evidently, Manchin is no pushover, and he can do the math.

One has to wonder if Manchin’s critics care about — or even understand — how our system of governance is supposed to work. Central to our democratic republic is the simple notion that elected members of the legislative branch, serving in the House and Senate, are chosen (i.e., elected) by their constituents to represent them — and their interests — in legislative matters. They don’t represent red or blue, Schumer or McConnell or Pelosi. They represent the people who sent them to Congress. Period.

In Manchin’s case, the interests of West Virginians were crystal clear. In 2020, they preferred Donald Trump to Joe Biden by a two-to-one margin; today, they disapprove BBB by a comparable margin.

Manchin offered rock-solid reasons behind his decision, principally his long-held concerns about spending huge sums of money we don’t have on social programs that we may not need. Critics can debate his rationale and they can contrive alternate sinister motives; but at the heart of the matter, Joe Manchin acted precisely as an elected senator should: he promised to cast his vote in accordance with his constituents’ expressed wishes.

Around this nation, and even in deep blue states, there are plenty of voters who, spooked by our very real inflation, prefer fiscal responsibility to sweeping expansion of our nation’s already generous entitlements. Wouldn’t it be a major step toward bipartisanship if all of our elected officials placed the interests of their constituents ahead of those of their party bosses?

Although probably rendered moot by Manchin’s decision, it’s also worth remembering several other reasons to be happy that the BBB is dead: (1) Biden’s hard left-tilt contradicts his oft-stated interest in national unity; (2) its 10-year cost would actually be more than twice the advertised $1.8T; and (3) it would be wholly improper to ram BBB through the Senate via the reconciliation process — a path intended for budgetary management, not ideological transformation of the nation.

Instead of branding Senator Manchin as the Grinch who stole Christmas, Democrats ought to be thanking him for saving them from a course that surely would not end well for them. This time, Manchin was the adult in the room, the wise parent who knew that the children didn’t the need the 25-pound bag of M&Ms that they’d hoped Santa would deliver.

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